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Opinion: July 3, 2019

Plus letters to the editor

Cover photo of Ah Fook from 1941 courtesy Skip Littlefield Archive/Santa Cruz Seaside Company

Editor's Note

Steve Palopoli Profile Photo

I’m no historian, but I’ve run enough pieces by historians to feel like I have somewhat of a feel for what are considered to be the major names and places in Santa Cruz history. Whenever the subject of this area’s Chinatown (actually Chinatowns, as there were several) comes up, I’ve read enough to know some of the timeframes and locations. But reading Geoffrey Dunn’s cover story this week, I was shocked at how much I didn’t know about the outrageous racism that Chinese immigrant communities here faced, and how they had to employ extreme measures—including giving up their own personal identities—to navigate it.

But then, that’s kind of the point of Dunn’s piece—we don’t even know what we think we know about Santa Cruz’s Chinatowns. And the way he uses a Chinese immigrant who achieved a small measure of fame here to frame that discussion is ingenious. To the pre-World War II Santa Cruz public, the man they knew as Ah Fook lived a simple fishing life that played into their racial stereotypes. But his real story was so much more complicated, and those complications contributed to what seemed to be his disappearance. Dunn’s research for this story led to a breakthrough that both honors the man’s legacy and sheds more light on the realities he faced as part of the Chinese community here. It’s an absolute must-read.

Letters to the Editor

Let Qualified People Do Their Jobs

Re: “Point of Contention” (GT, 6/26): Since the county took over the only syringe program in the community, at each biannual report the Board of Supervisors has issued more and more restrictions. One would think they have not got the memo that we are living during a time of an opioid and overdose crisis.

We are blessed with a Health Services Director who is committed to this program and has a fantastic staff, including program manager Jen Herrera.

It is time for the Board of Supervisors to untie the hands of the people who know public health and who know how to operate the most successful and widely accepted means of reducing syringe litter, reducing the spread of disease and improving the health of the community at large.

There is no such thing as overestimating the value of reducing the spread of disease. We have examples in Indiana and Seattle where an HIV outbreak decimated families and communities, now costing taxpayers millions of dollars to treat.

I take offense to the complaints of Ryan Coonerty that Downtown Streets Team and Save Our Shores have been picking up syringes. The county contracts with both of these organizations to do just that—pick up and minimize the impact of all litter in our public places.

We should fully expect these organizations to find syringes, because that is what we are tasking them to do and supporting them with equipment and supplies to safely do this, so that unprepared community members do not encounter syringes. Downtown Streets Team often cleans up abandoned and relocated encampments, and we dearly appreciate both of these organizations for the work they do.

Both organizations would find more syringes if there was not a syringe services program in the community, and this is data proven.

The Harm Reduction Coalition has spent months engaging with people who do not use the county program, and who regularly pick up discarded syringes that they find.

We should appreciate the community of people who use drugs and value their role in syringe pick up rather than constantly berate and judge them. People who use drugs are as diverse as any segment of the population. Viewing people as broken, wrong or pathological is a barrier that keeps people from getting the support they need.

If you want to push people away from services, tell them what we think they need and don’t allow them the dignity of determining their own needs.

Denise Elerick

Santa Cruz

Addicts Are Beyond Helping

Re: “Point of Contention”: Like illegal aliens, who are now referred to simply as “undocumented immigrants,” it seems that even junkies have been caught up in political correctness, and are now known instead as “injection drug users.” What kind of bizarre world have we morphed into where illegal drug users are provided (at taxpayer expense) the means to maintain their addictions? Offering free needles to heroin and methamphetamine users only encourages them to scale-up their involvement. Those just being introduced to drugs through inhaling or smoking can now easily step up and bang the final nail into their coffins by mainlining these poisons. A secondary outcome of this policy is that even more junkies will be attracted to places like Santa Cruz, where drugs are readily available and the necessary tools to use them are provided free of charge.  The recently dismantled Ross Camp should serve as a grim reminder of just how a sizeable influx of these freeloaders can impact a town like ours.

 In a right-thinking world, instead of needles being handed out to addicts for free, they should cost $50 each. We as a community should be doing everything within our power to discourage intravenous drug use, not encourage it. 

 And finally, we need to stop kidding ourselves that programs like the needle exchange will really help users “get over the hump and become tax-paying citizens,” as Arnold Leff states in your article. The grim reality is that very few hardcore drug users will ever turn their lives around and become responsible citizens. A more likely scenario is that most will continue to be a burden on society for the rest of their miserable lives.

 Jim Sklenar

Santa Cruz       

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